The Black Jacobins Reader: out now

co-edited with Christian Høgsbjerg

“This is the most authoritative confirmation to date of the intellectual stature of C. L. R. James and the prophetic grandeur of his great classic, The Black Jacobins. Some eighty years after its first publication, readers of different generations and across a diversity of national origins document their admiration of the depth and spontaneity of James’s analytical interpretation of the Haitian Revolution. It was the first and only example in modern history of a successful slave revolt when a population of enslaved Africans defeated three European armies and converted a slave plantation into the Independent Republic of Haiti. The nineteenth century had judged it inconceivable; and ever since it has survived a universal silence.” — George Lamming

The Black Jacobins, with its unforgettable story of Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution, is one of the great books of the twentieth century. The Black Jacobins Reader provides us with a rich selection of reflections on C. L. R. James’s achievement and his own rethinkings over time. Whether understood as a cultural history of revolution before cultural history; a classic text for revolutionaries; a meditation on universal history; a pioneering Marxist analysis of the slave trade, slavery, and modern capitalism; an inspiration for generations of historians; an exploration of what it means to be ‘West Indian’; a disruption of orthodox notions of historical temporality or a provocation to think about the relation between the past and the present; or indeed any combination of these; it is undoubtedly a book that continues to inspire many. Black activists in U.S. prisons, writers, and historians are amongst those who remind us, in different ways, of the power of a text such as this—one that wrote the history of a people supposedly without history.” — Catherine Hall

Containing a wealth of new scholarship and rare primary documents, The Black Jacobins Reader provides a comprehensive analysis of C. L. R. James’s classic history of the Haitian Revolution. In addition to considering the book’s literary qualities and its role in James’s emergence as a writer and thinker, the contributors discuss its production, context, and enduring importance in relation to debates about decolonization, globalization, postcolonialism, and the emergence of neocolonial modernity. The Reader also includes the reflections of activists and novelists on the book’s influence and a transcript of James’s 1970 interview with Studs Terkel.

Contributors: Mumia Abu-Jamal, David Austin, Madison Smartt Bell, Anthony Bogues, John H. Bracey Jr., Rachel Douglas, Laurent Dubois, Claudius K. Fergus, Carolyn E. Fick, Charles Forsdick, Dan Georgakas, Robert A. Hill, Christian Høgsbjerg, Selma James, Pierre Naville, Nick Nesbitt, Aldon Lynn Nielsen, Matthew Quest, David M. Rudder, Bill Schwarz, David Scott, Russell Maroon Shoatz, Matthew J. Smith, Studs Terkel
Foreword / Robert A. Hill  xiii
Haiti / David M. Rudder  xxi
Acknowledgments  xxiii
Introduction: Rethinking The Black Jacobins / Charles Forsdick and Christian Høgsbjerg  1
Part I. Personal Reflection
1. The Black Jacobins in Detroit: 1963 / Dan Georgakas  55
2. The Impact of C. L. R. James’s The Black Jacobins / Mumia Abu-Jamal  58
3. C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins, and The Making of Haiti / Carolyn E. Fick  60
4. The Black Jacobins, Education, and Redemption / Russell Maroon Shoatz  70
5. The Black Jacobins, Past and Present / Selma James  73
Part II. The Haitian Revolution: Histories and Philosophies
6. Reading The Black Jacobins: Historical Perspectives / Laurent Dubois  87
7. Haiti and Historical Time / Bill Schwarz  93
8. The Theory of Haiti: The Black Jacobins and the Poetics of Universal History / David Scott  115
9. Fragments of a Universal History: Global Capital, Mass Revolution, and the Idea of Equality in The Black Jacobins / Nick Nesbitt  139
10. “We Are Slaves and Slaves Believe in Freedom”: The Problematizing of Revolutionary Emancipation in The Black Jacobins / Claudius Fergus  162
11. “To Place Ourselves in History”: The Haitian Revolution in British West Indies Thought before The Black Jacobins / Matthew J. Smith  178
Part III. The Black Jacobins: Texts and Contexts
12. The Black Jacobins and the Long Haitian Revolution: Archives, History, and the Writing of Revolution / Anthony Bogues  197
13. Refiguring Resistance: Historiography, Fiction, and the Afterlives of Toussaint Louverture / Charles Forsdick  215
14. On “Both Sides” of the Haitian Revolution? Rethinking Direct Democracy and National Liberation in The Black Jacobins / Matthew Quest  235
15. The Black Jacobins: A Revolutionary Study of Revolution, and of a Caribbean Revolution / David Austin  256
16. Making Drama our of the Haitian Revolution from Below: C. L. R. James’s The Black Jacobins Play / Rachel Douglas  278
17. “On the Wings of Atalanta” / Aldon Lynn Nielsen  297
Part IV. Final Reflections
18. Afterword to The Black Jacobins‘s Italian Edition / Madison Smartt Bell  313
19. Introduction to the Cuban Edition of The Black Jacobins / John H. Bracey  322
Appendix 1. C. L. R. James and Studs Terkel Discuss The Black Jacobins on WFMT Radion (Chicago), 1970  329
Appendix 2. The Revolution in Theory / C. L. R. James  353
Appendix 3. Translator’s Foreword by Pierre Naville to the 1949 / 1983 French Editions  367
Bibliography  383
Contributors  411
Index  415

Teaching and research in ‘strategically important’ languages

Teaching and Research in ‘Strategically Important’ Languages:
a Comparative Perspective, between France and the United Kingdom

Christine Lorre-Johnston (Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3), Catherine Davies (IMLR), and Charles Forsdick (AHRC) report on the recent seminar held in Paris discussing the notion of ‘strategically important’ languages.

imgThis one-day seminar was held at the University Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3 on Friday 25 November 2016, in the amphitheatre of the Institut du Monde Anglophone. The seminar was conceived as a follow-up to a workshop entitled “What Is Modern Languages Research?” held by the Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London, in July 2015. The Paris event was jointly organised by Christine Lorre-Johnston (Sorbonne Nouvelle, and LabEx TransferS programme), Catherine Davies (London, Institute of Modern Languages Research [IMLR]), and Charles Forsdick (Liverpool, and leadership fellow of the Translating Cultures theme of the Arts and Humanities Research Council [AHRC]), with the generous support of our respective institutions and research programmes.

The seminar took its cue from the fact that in England, Modern Languages, along with area studies and related languages, were considered “Strategically Important and Vulnerable Subjects” in the 2005 report of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). The aim of the day’s discussions was to investigate the notion of ‘strategically important’ languages, in a comparative perspective focusing on the UK and France, and the impact of that notion on higher education and research, as well as school education.

The introduction by Christine Lorre-Johnston recalled the existence of the parallel institutions that frame research and teaching in the UK and in France. The first panel, on European languages, was chaired by Janice Carruthers (Queen’s University Belfast) and Ricarda Schneider (Sorbonne Nouvelle). Andrew Hussey (University of London Institute in Paris) started with Juan Goytisolo’s novel Landscapes after the Battle (1982) to destabilise the notion of linguistic identity in France in the 21st century, with the omnipresence of Arabic. Catherine Davies discussed “The Growth of Spanish and Portuguese in the UK,” pointing out that because British universities are autonomous, government “encouragement” is not enough to sustain language degree programmes: dialogue with university management is important. Tatiana Matzenbacher (Sorbonne Nouvelle) stressed the diplomatic and political importance of learning Portuguese. Godela Weiss-Sussex (IMLR) described various initiatives that have been taken to emphasize German culture in an effort to counter the decline in the number of students of German.

The next two panels, chaired by Charles Forsdick and Stefan Sperl (School of Oriental and African Studies [SOAS]), dealt with non-European languages. Stefan Sperl explained how the SOAS Arabic Programme aims at transcending stereotypes for indigenous (English-speaking) students, and at gaining comparative perspective for heritage students (with an Arabic background). Luc Deheuvels (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales [INALCO]) retraced the long history of the teaching of Arabic in France, and pointed out that even though Arabic is taught in some 20 universities in France, there are still few Arabic teachers in secondary schools. Stephen Hutchings (Manchester), discussing Russian in the UK, evoked two current concerns: the notion of ‘securitisation’ of public discourse, and the need to explore the possibilities of research and teaching across language areas, because transnational and transcultural exchanges have spawned new geopolitical configurations. Nalini Balbir (Sorbonne Nouvelle) analysed the status of Hindi as a ‘rare’ or ‘small’ language in France, except in overseas departments with a population of Indian origin: in Guadeloupe, Hindi is taught at secondary level, and at the University of Réunion, a diploma in Hindi is available.

A whole panel, chaired by Charles Forsdick, was devoted to Chinese. For Derek Hird (Westminster), one challenge is to integrate Chinese language and another area of study, to offer a larger range of combined programmes. Li Wei (University College London) focused on the English Baccalaureate that was created in 2011, enabling high school students to join the “Mandarin Excellence Programme,” in the context of the ‘Golden Era’ between the UK and China. Joël Bellassen (INALCO) described the surprisingly long history of teaching Chinese in France, a language that ranked 5th in secondary schools in 2007, and has kept gaining ground since then. Because Chinese is so different from European languages, a better reference framework is still needed for it in the European Common Framework for languages.

The third panel, on “National Strategies,” was chaired by Janice Carruthers. Clíona Ní Ríordáin (Sorbonne Nouvelle) insisted on the need, in the case of the Irish language, to disentangle language from religion and politics and to acknowledge the presence of various traditions. Bernadette Holmes (Speak to the Future, UK) brought out the importance of a second language from employers’ viewpoint, and the value for young people of having cultural insight into another culture. Jocelyn Wyburd (Cambridge) explored the utilitarian aspect of the term strategic, including the importance of languages in the Army and the British Listening Services.

Catherine Davies chaired the fourth and last panel on “Strategic Usage of Languages.” Hilary Footitt (Reading) discussed the importance of languages in NGOs and the sense of temporality attached to it, of the need to learn a language now. Christopher Stone (Wolverhampton) noticed the same sense of immediate necessity with sign languages, often for economic reasons, notwithstanding the fact that sign language is a language of its own. Anna-Louise Milne (ULIP) evoked the variety of linguistic experiences that English students have when they spend three years in Paris, and how it changes their relation to the language. Charles Forsdick closed the seminar by stressing the need for a shift from ‘strategically important’ languages to the strategic importance of languages. He emphasised the intrinsic value of studying languages, as opposed to its utilitarian value, and the need to challenge the ‘linguistic muteness’ in research, policy and practice.

Christine Lorre-Johnston, Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3

Catherine Davies, IMLR

Charles Forsdick, AHRC

Human Zoos and Being Human

humanzoogermanyAnthropozoological displays—often associated more succinctly with the phenomenon of the ‘human zoo’—are public exhibitions of human beings, usually conceived to demonstrate in an exaggerated and stereotypical fashion the cultural and social differences between national and social groups. The term ‘human zoo’ designates a range of practices, not least because the term in its wider understandings can describe more generally various forms of curiosity towards those considered somehow different. The geneaology of the phenomenon is usually associated with the early modern period and in particular the first significant and sustained contacts between European and non-European cultures, when indigenous people from South America were brought to France, Great Britain and Spain and displayed to the European public. In 1550, a royal procession in Rouen before the French King Henry II featured Tupinamba Indians from Brazil, an event that inspired Montaigne to write his essay ‘Des cannibales’.

240px-baartmanThe display in London and Paris of Saartjie Baartman (pejoratively known as the ‘Hottentot Venus’) for the purposes of science, entertainment and the satisfaction of a more general prurience is often taken as the foundation of modern manifestations of the phenomenon. It was, however, with the advent of universal and colonial exhibitions—most notably the 1878 and the 1889 Parisian World’s Fairs—that ‘human zoos’ were institutionalized and linked to the elaboration of both colonial ideology and scientific racism. In parallel, a number of impresarios and showmen—one of the most notable examples being Carl Hagenbeck, owner of a major zoo in Hamburg—began to arrange highly successful tours of indigenous populations from various parts of the world, a practice that included the development of ‘villages’ displaying European populations (e.g., Breton, Irish and Welsh) minoritized in their wider cultural contexts. Particularly prominent involved Native Americans, and included the ‘Buffalo Bill Wild West Show’, which toured throughout Europe and visited Liverpool at least twice. With the advent of cinema and the rise of anti-colonial sentiment (or at least a growing anxiety surrounding the ideological foundations of empire), ‘human zoos’ fell rapidly into abeyance, and indeed became increasingly rare following World War II. The phenomenon was still in evidence at Expo 58, also known as the Brussels World’s Fair, but this was a rare example. Forms of display associated with ‘human zoos’ continue to be evident, however, explicitly in a number of recent controversial attempts to include humans alongside animals in the context of conventional zoos, but also in hybrid performance pieces such as Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B, a production of which was abandoned at the Barbican in 2014 after vocal protests centring on the extent to which the show replicated rather than critiqued the racism at the heart of the ‘human zoo’. Focus on ‘human zoos’ has also formed part of a more general debate on the treatment of human remains in museums, and the ways in which colonial racism can persist in unquestioned display practices. Some commentators see the spirit of the ‘human zoo’ present in popular forms such as reality TV

Despite the popularity of the practice in the period 1870-1930, and the proliferation of iconography and ephemera to which it gave rise, the ‘human zoo’ disappeared rapidly from collective memory. The work of the French public history group ACHAC raised awareness of the phenomenon and began to explore its global complexity, first in a conference in Marseilles in 2000, papers from which appeared in an influential book in 2002. (This has now been translated into several languages, and an English-language edition appeared with Liverpool University Press in 2008). A major exhibition on the subject was held at the Quai Branly in Paris in 2011/12, and a version of this will be on display in Liverpool later this month as part of the Being Human festival. The exhibition, which covers a range of historical periods, geographical locations and national contexts, raises many questions about ‘human zoos’, and the forms of observation they involve. Drawing on the rich iconography surrounding the phenomenon, it also forces us to address the ethics of display and the extent to which access to often challenging imagery is essential to understanding this historical practice and its contemporary afterlives. The exhibition was developed in association with the Lilian Thuram Foundation, and is part of a wider commitment to understanding the historical roots of contemporary racism—and to contributing to anti-racist education: ‘You are not born a racist, you become one. […] Racism is an intellectual, construction and more than anything, a political one.’

The exhibition will be held at the Kuumba Imani Centre in Liverpool from 17-25 November, and will be complemented by three events in which audiences will be invited to learn more about humans on display and to engage in debates on the subject. The exhibition will be launched with a roundtable on 21 November at 5pm, with speakers including Sandrine Lemaire (ACHAC, France), Shahmima Akhtar (Birmingham) and Lara Atkin (QMUL). At the University of Liverpool on 22 November, there will be a screening of the documentary on ‘human zoos’ produced by ACHAC (in French, with English subtitles); and a concluding panel discussion on ‘DISPLAYING HUMANS: HISTORICAL AND CONTEMPORARY PERSPECTIVES’ will be held in the Anthony Walker Education Centre at the International Slavery Museum at 3pm on 23 November, with Shahmima Akhtar (Birmingham), Lara Atkin (QMUL), Stephen Kenny (Liverpool), Emily Trafford (Manchester) and Karen Salt (Nottingham).

Full details—including information about registration—are available here.


Alison Phipps of Researching Multilingually at Borders named as first UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts


University of Glasgow invited to join UNESCO’s prestigious Universities Network for its work in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts

The University of Glasgow has been invited by UNESCO’s Director General to join its prestigious universities network (the UNESCO Chairs) and establish the first UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts.

The purpose of the UNESCO Chair is to promote an integrated system of research, training, information and documentation on how the integration of refugees into new communities can be promoted through languages and the arts. The UNESCO Chair will bring together internationally-recognised researchers in this field from across the University as well as other institutions in the United Kingdom, in Africa, the Arab States region, as well as in other regions of the world.

The University of Glasgow’s Professor Alison Phipps will lead this activity as the UNESCO Chairholder. Professor Phipps, who is Professor of Languages and Intercultural Studies, in the School of Education and Co-convener of GRAMNet – the Glasgow Refugee and Asylum Migration Network, said:

“The endowment of this Chair by UNESCO will allow us to extend our work significantly with a focus on the protection of living culture. It will allow us to develop multilingual and creative hubs of activity with a number of partners, including Glasgow Open Museums, Scottish Refugee Council, the Red Cross and the Iona Community to enable refugee integration through languages and the arts. In Ghana we shall be working with the University of Ghana and the Noyam African Dance Institute and in Gaza with the Islamic University of Gaza.”

Glasgow’s UNESCO Chair will be delivered in partnership with the University of Glasgow’s Refugee, Asylum and Migration Network (GRAMNet), migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, a collective of international researchers, artists, public and third sector organisations. It extends present work funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council under the Translating Cultures theme with existing partners – including those in Gaza and Ghana with historical experience of refugee integration, land, language and population loss – to address needs in countries that are presently receiving displaced persons.

In response to UNESCO’s announcement, the University will establish a full-time secretariat to undertake a programme of research focused on fostering refugee integration through creative and cultural expressions. The University will also appoint two artists-in-residence – Gameli Tordzro, a Ghanaian multiple arts professional, and Tawona Sithole, a poet from Zimbabwe.

Professor Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow welcomed the announcement and said:

“The establishment of this UNESCO Chair is a great honour for the University and reflects our commitment to and support for refugees since the 1930s when the University was a haven to academics fleeing the Nazi regime. It is also a tribute to the inspirational research that has been led by Alison Phipps. I have no doubt that the UNESCO Chair will lead to an expansion of this important work at a time of unprecedented refugee crisis”.

The UK National Commission for UNESCO, which is the central hub for UNESCO-related matters in the UK,  supported Professor Phipps through the rigorous application process to establish the UNESCO Chair. The UK National Commission for UNESCO’s Higher Education Director, Professor Kiran Fernandes, said of the announcement:

“With its focus on fostering community integration through creative and cultural expression, Glasgow’s UNESCO Chair encapsulates what UNESCO is all about – building peace in the minds of men and women through intercultural understanding and collaboration. In being invited to establish a UNESCO Chair, the University of Glasgow is taking its rightful place within a dynamic, global network of universities which have been formally honoured by UNESCO for high-quality research that is working to further UNESCO’s peace building mission”.

Research projects range from the dynamics of ethnic inequality and identity in the UK since the Second World War; lesbian, gay and bisexual migrants in Scotland; and a training model for effective interpreting in healthcare settings. Other aspects include:

  • The Researching Multilingually at Borders project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). It is a collaboration between seven academic institutions (international and UK) and third sector organisations. The international team of researchers, with their different disciplinary backgrounds, research experiences, language and performance skills, will conduct international comparative research on translation and interpretation at different kinds of border in order to develop theory, ethical research practices and research methodologies in relation to multilingual research.


Gameli Tordzro was appointed GRAMNet Musician-in-Residence in 2015. His plans include the development of a Migrants Arts Network within GRAMNet in collaboration with other artists-in-residence’. He said: “I will also bring the expertise and experience of a diaspora artist from a context in the global south with a history of both receiving and losing populations through slavery, displacements and conflict. This is vital knowledge for working with refugee populations in the present and in their own displacement from the contexts where their languages are spoken readily and cultural forms are palpable and part of everyday life.”

Poet-in-residence Tawoni Sitholé’s work with the University of Glasgow has ranged from Global Health inductions to working within the School of Education, and is currently focused on the Researching Multilingually project.   He said: “Working with the Chair I will ensure that the ethics of respect for indigenous and ancestral knowledges are maintained and observed fully within the project and the academic work. As the programme of work with the Chair becomes established with the two partners in the global south we will work to extend the reach of the work into my own native Zimbabwe and also with indigenous custodians of culture and language with whom Prof Phipps has established and trusted relations.”

An inaugural UNESCO Chair lecture will be held at the University of Glasgow in spring, 2017.

The Scottish Refugee Council’s Head of Policy and Communications, Gary Christie, said: “Since the considerable increase in interest in refugee integration, through the resettlement of refugees from Syria, we have further consolidated our work with the University. Large public meetings on the Greek arrivals and humanitarian aid with Médecins Sans Frontières, artists and campaigners, and also with the Italian Ambassador to the UK, have each attracted audiences of over 300 at the University for our joint work.

“They have been central to capacity building required across many new sectors. Working with academics under the proposed UNESCO Chair programme will enhance those new activities considerable and enable us to work with partners in contexts from which we have much to learn, but where we often struggle for research access. The proposed extension of the CARA (the Council for At-Risk Academics) work by the University is particularly pleasing and could lead to significant capacity building around refugee integration in the higher education sector.”

Dr Nazmi Al Masri, Vice-President of External Relations, the Islamic University of Gaza, said: “The Islamic University of Gaza is delighted to be a partner in this innovative UNESCO Chair established at the prestigious University of Glasgow and to be competently and creatively led by Professor Alison Phipps. Speaking from Gaza, which has been hosting Palestinian refugees for about seven decades, I can confidently confirm that this UNESCO Chair will achieve its noble objectives and will contribute to the promotion of universal values adopted by the UNESCO and the partner universities involved in this Chair. Hand in hand and with languages and arts we will together promote the culture of peace, tolerance and pluralism.”

The Artistic Director of Noyam African Dance Institute, Nii Tete Yartey, said of the recent work with Professor Phipps, Gameli and Naa Densua Tordzro and Tawona Sitholé in Ghana: “The past weeks with the research and artistic team of Broken World, Broken Word has been a transformative experience for not only the Noyam Dance Institute, but also the Dodowa community as a whole. It is rare to have a project that goes beyond just harnessing the collective energies of a community to touch and actually bring families together in the end. It has been an amazing journey. I look forward to future work deepening these relationships through the UNESCO Chair programme. ”

Links to videos:


Gaza – sign languages:

Glasgow and Languages:

Ghana artist in residence, Gameli Tordzro’s Ha Orchestra:

Zimbabwean Tradition-Bearer and Poet in Residence – Tawona Sithole:

Liverpool Travel Seminar X: ‘Travel and Place’

The tenth annual Liverpool Travel Seminar will be held at Blackburne House, Liverpool, on Saturday 24 September 2016.

Registration details here.

The Liverpool Travel Seminar is a collaborative and interdisciplinary research forum launched jointly by Liverpool Hope University, the University of Liverpool, and Liverpool John Moores University in 2007. It provides a constructive environment in which colleagues from Liverpool’s three universities with interests in travel and travel writing can discuss the latest developments in their fields whilst reflecting on possible future directions. The Seminar provides a cross- and inter-disciplinary research infrastructure, permitting cross-institutional dialogue and research collaboration in Liverpool itself. At the same time, it aims to expand national and international networks of scholars working on travel and associated fields.

This year’s event is arranged in association with the Arts and Humanities Research Council ‘Translating Cultures’ theme, and brings together researchers linked to AHRC-funded projects with members of the Network on Travel Writing of the Far North to discuss questions of travel and place.

Convenors: Charles Forsdick (University of Liverpool), Zoe Kinsley (Liverpool Hope University) and Kate Walchester (Liverpool John Moores University)


10.00 arrival and coffee


Panel 1: Travel Writing of the Far North 1800-1900

Kim Simonsen (University of Amsterdam)

Silke Reeploeg (University of the Highlands and Islands)

Karina Lykke Grand (Aarhus University)

12 noon

Panel 2: From ‘Dark Tourism’ to ‘Phoenix Tourism’

Charles Forsdick (University of Liverpool)

Margaret Topping (Queen’s University Belfast)

13.00 lunch


Panel 3: European Travellers to Wales

Carol Tully (Bangor University)

Heather Williams (University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh & Celtic Studies)

15.30 tea


Panel 4: Re-enacting the Silk Road

Mike Heffernan (University of Nottingham)

Jean-Xavier Ridon (University of Nottingham)

17.00 close of workshop

There are a maximum of 28 places available for the workshop, which will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

Haun Saussy on the interplay between Modern Languages and Comparatism

From: Comparative Literature: The Next Ten Years


“We can confidently predict that ten years from now, comparative literature will be in a state of crisis. It is always in crisis. In 2004 I ventured that nothing has ever defined comparative literature so well as the search for its own definition, a search conducted between and against better-established fields. That continued sense of crisis, however, is one we make for ourselves. External conditions impose another shape on comparative literature’s sense of crisis.”

“Comparatists will have to stand up for themselves in the next ten years, first by championing the so-called national language departments without which comparative literature will not survive except as a label for general-education literature-in-translation courses; second by reminding the culture around us of the value there is in being able to synthesize complex and discrepant information that was never designed to be drawn together; and third by demonstrating new ways of making sense exactly where existing canons and methods fail us. That is how we can keep comparative literature’s specific difference open in an increasingly consolidated and shrinking humanities domain.”

Translating historical research into visual material

Translating historical research into visual material: the exhibition Empires of Emptiness: Fortresses of the Sahara and the Steppe

The ‘Empires of Emptiness’ exhibition has recently opened at Jackfield Tile Museum, in the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site, offering an example of how transnational historical research can be translated into visual material. The exhibition’s core concepts revolves around a unique combination of high-impact photographs and archival material about the Russian and French empires to offer a new interpretation of how colonial systems expand into deserts, through the case-studies of fortifications.

The exhibition explores these vast spaces of wind, sand and stars, demonstrating how, despite the seemingly limited ‘value’ of arid lands and the significant logistical difficulties they posed, the conquest of deserts has often mobilised sizeable resources from some of the world’s most notable empires. Commenting upon the exhibition, the project’s principal investigator and exhibition curator Dr Berny Sèbe, Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham, observed:

‘The combination of high-impact visual and historical material offers a unique insight into one of the least-known areas on Earth, the environment and complex civilisations of the Sahara desert the Central Asian steppe. The exhibition’s remit is to open up a whole new world to visitors – visually and intellectually’.

Sebe_IMG_1278The exhibition, which is open daily until 21 September, concentrates on two colonial conquests in arid environments – the Russian fortifications in the Central Asian Steppe and the vast network of French forts that were built in an attempt to control the Sahara desert. Reflecting upon the parallel between these two major imperial powers in the nineteenth century, Prof. Alexander Morrison stated that

‘in both cases, the two powers, Russia and France, resorted to the same basic tactic, which was building fortresses in the middle of these territories, in the hope that this would somehow allow them to control these populations.’

This is why the study of fortresses has allowed the two historians to provide a variety of new insights into empire-making processes in desert environments. It looks at both the ‘high politics’ of these conquests such as the development of fortress lines across empty spaces as well as the more practical aspects of desert fortifications – construction, everyday life and relationships with local populations.  Empires of Emptiness reveals the fascinating untold story of desert conquests.

The exhibition is a visual and a historical journey which uses breath-taking photography, in particular from the world-renowned archive of multiple award-wining photographer Alain Sèbe, to show vividly the ‘nature’ of the Sahara and the Steppe, which is essential to understanding the strategic and logistical challenges which desert fortresses were supposed to help overcome.

New forays into archival material in France and Russia provide unique insights into decision-making processes, as well as the practicalities of building fortresses in deserts. Berny Sèbe argues that through the case study of desert fortresses, the whole story of imperial expansion unravels under our eyes. We wanted to give substance to the actual processes of conquest which underpinned the expansion of empires whilst examining why empires were sometimes driven towards conquering apparently useless territories, such as deserts.’

Drawing the conclusions of this entangled history of desert conquests, Alexander Morrison notes that ‘there are some really interesting parallels not just between the territories and the peoples that they conquered, or that they attempted to conquer, but between the imperial mentalities which we see in both cases, on the part of the Russians and on the part of the French.

The exhibition is the result of a University of Birmingham-led research project ‘Outposts of Conquest’ funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of England.

For more information about the project visit  ‘Empires of Emptiness – Fortresses of the Sahara and the Steppe’ is in the Footprint Gallery at Jackfield Tile Museum, Ironbridge Gorge TF8 7LJ, and is open everyday from 10am until 5pm between 23 May and 21 September 2016.  Admission is free of charge.


Translating Cultures and Care for the Future Innovation Awards on International Development

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) is pleased to announce a new call for Research Innovation awards on International Development. The call is a joint initiative between the AHRC’s Translating Cultures and Care for the Future themes. Awards will be funded through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

Projects will be expected to take innovative, collaborative and adventurous approaches to development-focused topics pertinent to the Translating Cultures and Care for the Future themes. They will be expected to make incisive contributions to the development of the themes.

Closing Date: 21/07/2016

The call seeks to complement a number of other calls that have recently been launched, or are in development, through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). This includes recently announced calls on global health and agriculture and food systems, a possible joint call on resilience to natural disasters, a planned ESRC/AHRC call on forced displacement and an AHRC/ESRC call on conflict to be delivered through the Partnership for Conflict, Crime, and Security Research (PaCCS). Given the intersections between issues, applicants are advised to consider which opportunity is most appropriate for their research plans, taking into account the particular foci (for example the focus on Translating Cultures and Care for the Future for this call); call requirements (e.g. expectations relating to innovation, non-academic engagement, etc.) and types of activities which can be supported under the calls (e.g. funding levels/ durations, provision for networking, exploratory, developmental research etc).

For further information on scheme criteria, eligibility, assessment procedures and supportable activities please see the Translating Cultures and Care for the Future Innovation Awards on International Development scheme guidance. (PDF, 182KB)

Translation and the law

Guest post: first appeared on the ‘talking humanities’ blog.

Dr James Hadley, researcher in translation/translingual studies at the School of Advanced Study, gives a taster of a ground-breaking new project on the world of legal translation that is bringing together the expertise of the Institute of Modern Languages Research and the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.

Law is something that underpins everything we do in the present day. From the ways in which we buy and sell things to how we move around, law shapes every aspect of our lives. However, laws are not static, and while they are ubiquitous, they are far from uniform.

Legal systems, traditions, structures, and terms vary fundamentally around the globe, and even within Europe, the common law system that characterises the English system, is unusual. So what happens when laws and legal documents need to be translated from one language to another? How do we bridge the gaps between not only the different languages at work, but also the radically different understandings of what a law is and how it functions?

The Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR), in partnership with the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) has just begun a new project aimed at exploring some of these key questions. We want to know who is qualified to translate legal documents, how they are assessed, and what issues may be associated with reading translations of legal documents.

It might be tempting to assume that the translation of legal documents is something that occurs relatively rarely. However, when we start to think about jurisdictions such as Canada, Hong Kong, and Switzerland, each of which has more than one official language, and is required to make laws equally available in each, we start to see that legal translation occurs all the time.

In these contexts, translated laws carry the same legal force as the laws they have been translated from, so they function precisely in the same way as the laws they have been translated from. This approach reaches its extreme, perhaps, in contexts such as the EU, in which new legislation is required to be published synchronously in all 23 of the EU’s official languages, each of which is considered to be of equal standing.

However, the intention of creating a law with equivalent force in another language is not the only reason legal documents might be translated between languages. Such documents are very frequently translated in response to particular issues. The directors of a company that begins trading in another country may require large numbers of legal documents to be translated, simply to understand the regulations under which they will be required to work. Similarly, individuals living abroad very often require legal documentation to be translated in order to allow them to buy a house, accept a job, or simply to understand their rights in the new culture.

As anyone who has ever needed to wade through a contract will know, legal documents are written in their own language, sometimes called legalese. Thus, even if a legal document is English, and you speak the language, it is not necessarily the case that you will understand everything that is written in it. That being the case, and legal traditions around the world being so variable, it is easy to see how translating legal documents from one language to another would be no mean feat. Even if you do happen to speak both languages, you also need to understand, and be able to reproduce the respective forms of legalese with an extremely high degree of technical accuracy.

We at the School of Advanced Study are interested in all aspects of legal translation. Over the coming years, we are planning a series of projects that will explore the particular idiosyncrasies, issues, and problems associated with translating laws and legal documents. Keep an eye on the websites of the two institutes (IALS and IMLR) for a whole series of events and developments in which we will look forward to sharing our interest in this theme with you.

Dr James Hadley is an early career researcher at the Institute of Modern Languages Research. He is interested in the ways that translation theory has been used, and even more interested in the ways that it has not been used. To date, much of his research has focused on translation in under-researched contexts, such as Japan, and medieval Europe. He is currently completing two projects, one on indirect translations or translations of translations, and the other on the phenomenon of celebrity translators in the Meiji period Japanese context. His next project will be an ambitious survey of the use and generation of translation theory today.

Translation, Translanguaging and Creativity: A Translating Cultures Workshop

To coincide with the visit to the UK of Dr Tong King Lee (University of Hong Kong), author of the recent Experimental Chinese Literature: Translation, Technology, Poetics (Brill, 2015), the AHRC translating cultures theme has organized an afternoon workshop on translation, translanguaging and creativity.

The event has been arranged in collaboration with and is hosted by the Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London.

Date: Monday June 13th 2016

Time: 2.00-5.00

Place: Room 246, IMLR, Senate House South Block



 2.00: introduction (Charles Forsdick, University of Liverpool; Translating Cultures)


Jess Bradley (University of Leeds; Translation and Translanguaging), ‘Translanguaging from studio to street: resemiotizing the narrative in production and performance’

Katja Frimberger (University of Glasgow; Researching Multlingually), ‘Arts, pedagogy & becoming’

James Hadley (IMLR), ‘Creativity in indirect literary translation and its constraints’


Mike Baynham (University of Leeds; Translation and Translanguaging) and Bruno Duque (Leeds key participant TRANSLANG sports phase)

Fieldwork Conversations: A conversation with Bruno

3.30: coffee


Derek Duncan (University of St Andrews), Loredana Polezzi (Cardiff University) and Naomi Wells (University of Warwick)

Transnationalizing Modern Languages: Transnationalizing Creative Practices

4.40: final reflections (Tong King Lee)

5.00: close

Spaces are limited, so please register here by Monday June 6th. For information about the seminar, please contact:

The seminar will be followed by a lecture on ‘Translation, Translanguaging and Literary Art’ by TK Lee at Birkbeck College, University of London:

Date: Monday June 13th 2016

Time: 6.00-7.00

Place: Room 416, Malet Street, Birkbeck Main Building (Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HX).


This talk explores how translation and translanguaging feature as both conceptual theme and visual trope in contemporary literature and art. Based on the multilingual cyberpoetry of the sinologist and translator John Cayley and the text-art installations of transnational artist Xu Bing, we will look at the material effects of translation and translanguaging in the opening up of new (inter)semiotic spaces in mixed-media artefacts; these spaces are also creative grounds for the sensuous engagement of the embodied reader and critical engagement with language ideologies. Two themes are in focus: first, the dialectic between translation/translanguaging and signification/communication in aesthetic art, bearing in mind that translation and translanguaging are broadly defined, and relate to both verbal and non-verbal modalities; second, how translation and translanguaging draw readers into cognitive-perceptual – alongside hermeneutic-interpretive – participation in the unravelling of the works in question, thereby turning readers into viewers as well as players. Through a close reading-viewing-playing of Cayley’s and Xu Bing’s works, the talk demonstrates how translation and translanguaging function as performative resources in some of the most exciting experiments in multimodal literary art.

For enquiries about the lecture in Birkbeck, contact:

Tong King Lee will also lead a seminar on ‘Negotiating Chinese Soft Power Through Translation’ the previous week at the University of Leeds

Date: Thursday June 9th 2016

Time: 2.00-3.30

Place: The Coach House, School of Education, University of Leeds

Directions: The School of Education is building 71 on

This talk examines the cross-cultural operations involved in the discursive construction of China, with a focus on how translation, alongside other textual practices, serves as a strategic instrument in advancing ideological causes. The talk is divided into two parts. The first part revolves around the theme of “Chinese soft power”. It explores how contemporary China constructs and projects its own (positive) cultural image through the systematic translation of select Chinese titles into foreign languages and the dissemination of these titles through rigorous publication programs. The second part examines Anglophone representations of contemporary China in both literary and non-literary texts, both translated and non-translated writing. With an eye on interculturality, we seek to elucidate two issues here: first, how British and American publishers consciously shape the image of China through the translation, publication, and paratextual marketing of select Chinese titles; second, how these translations, together with (non-translated) English-language writings on China, generate a powerful discourse that in turn governs the way China is perceived by Western audiences. By investigating how China is manipulated in translated texts and their paratexts, as well as whether and how China’s self-representation is mitigated by Anglophone representations of China, we draw implications for understanding the geopolitical relations between China and its Western Other from the perspective of intercultural discourse.

For information about the Leeds seminar contact: Mike Baynham ( or Jess Bradley (

Shakespeare in Translation: forthcoming events

Shakespeare in French

Date: 08/06/2016 – 10:0018:00
Institute: Institute of Modern Languages Research
Type: Conference / Symposium
Venue: Dr Seng T Lee Centre for Manuscript and Book Studies

With Shakespeare’s works being regarded (and thrust down people’s throats) as ‘universal classics’, it is perhaps not surprising that they have so often been staged across the Channel. The Bard is, in fact, the writer whose works are most frequently performed in France. Join us then in Senate House Library to explore Shakespeare from a French perspective. Along with talks from Florence March and Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin (Université Paul Valéry), there will be a screening of Les Enfants du paradis and a bilingual reading of (extracts from) Henry VI.

See more at:


All the World’s a stage: Shakespeare in Europe and the Americas


Conference Centre
The British Library
96 Euston Road


Fri 10 Jun 2016, 10:30 – 17:00

This study day brings together leading specialists to explore Shakespeare’s cultural presence in Europe and the Americas No writer’s work has been translated, performed and transformed by as many cultures across the world as Shakespeare’s. Themes include Shakespeare’s European source material; postcolonial adaptations; Shakespeare and politics, and Shakespeare and performance.

In partnership with the AHRC Translating Cultures Theme and the Polish Cultural Institute.

See more at:

‘Writing Place’, Sheffield, Friday 6 May

You are invited to ‘Writing Place’, a free public event in which three contemporary authors will read from their recent books on landscape and place:

– Karl Whitney, Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin (Penguin)
– Joanna Walsh, Hotel (Bloomsbury)
– David Matless, The Regional Book (Uniformbooks)

Readings will be followed by book signing and wine reception.

  • University of Sheffield (ICOSS Building),  219 Portobello, Sheffield
  • Friday 6 May, 2016, 6:00-7:30 PM
  • Doors open at 5:30, limited space, so arrive early to secure a seat
  • Free event, no registration is required


The ‘Writing Place’ event is part of a symposium on ‘Georges Perec’s Geographies’ which will take place on 6-7 May in the Department of Geography, University of Sheffield.

Information related to this message is available at

CFP: Francophone Postcolonial Studies in the 21st Century

Society for Francophone Postcolonial Studies

In association with Liverpool University Press

Francophone Postcolonial Studies in the 21st Century

Friday 18–Saturday 19 November 2016

Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London,

Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU


The first fifteen years of the twenty-first century in the francophone world have been turbulent, marked by natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake, uprisings and conflicts including the 2005 French riots, the Arab Spring of 2010, the 2013 French intervention in Mali, and the Charlie Hebdo and Paris terrorist attacks in 2015. This conference aims to consider how such events have been negotiated by authors and producers of francophone postcolonial cultural responses. Through discussion of very recent cultural production from the postcolonial francophone world, we hope to begin to identify what sets the cultural products of the twenty-first century apart from those that came before. Whose are the new francophone voices to have emerged, and why? What are the specific challenges facing producers of francophone postcolonial culture in the twenty-first century? And what are the implications for the future of Francophone Postcolonial Studies as a discipline?

We welcome proposals for papers and panels on topics including:

  • Defining moments of the 21st-century in France and the francophone world
  • The role of history in defining 21st-century francophone postcolonial studies
  • Contemporary challenges for francophone postcolonial studies
  • New francophone postcolonial voices of the 21st century
  • Readership and audiences in the 21st century
  • Form and experimentation in 21st -century francophone texts
  • The publication and circulation of postcolonial francophone texts in the 21st century
  • Digital literatures and cultures in the postcolonial francophone world
  • New and future directions for francophone postcolonial studies
  • Teaching Francophone Postcolonial Studies in the 21st century
  • Francophone Postcolonial Studies and the Academy

Please send abstracts of 200-250 words plus 50-100 words of biography in a Word document to the Conference Secretary, Dr Catherine Gilbert ( Papers can be in English or French.

The deadline for receipt of abstracts is: 1 June 2016

Networking assembly: Translanguaging and Translation in the Superdiverse City

The University of Birmingham research project, ‘Translanguaging and Translation in the Superdiverse City’ is holding its first Networking Assembly on 13th May 2016.  This event, open to academics, students, community groups, public organisations, charities and the public, aims to create opportunities for cross-disciplinary, cross-sector, and cross-city conversations about communication in the superdiverse city.  The day will focus on everyday encounters in city contexts in relation to two themes: business and heritage.

The research project creates opportunities to understand the possibilities of multilingualism and superdiversity from a range of perspectives, including the arts, cultural and heritage sectors, business, and the academy. The network event will be held at Birmingham’s award-winning city centre science museum, Thinktank, which is a short walk from New Street Station.

Further information about the programme for the day is attached.

We are grateful to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for making this event possible.

If you wish to attend please register free here.  Any questions, please contact the TLANG project administrator, Sarah Martin (

Workshop: Literary Translation, Cultural Diplomacy and International Dialogue

The AHRC-funded project on the translation of the literatures of smaller European nations is pleased to announce its third public workshop, which will take place on Monday April 25th at 5pm at the Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Rd, London EC1R 3GA. The workshop will focus on the work of national, international and third-sector promoters of literature in translation. We aim to understand better the nature of their work, its aims and priorities, how its success is measured and the challenges faced.

Our speakers will include Erica Jarnes from English PEN and Gabriela Mocan from the Romanian Cultural Institute. We would especially welcome the participation of representatives from national cultural centres and embassies in London and representatives of third-sector organisations that promote literary translation. Admission is free and refreshments will be provided.

To book a place or for more information, please e-mail Rajendra Chitnis at

For more information about our project, see
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search